Bush Christmas a gift for rural artisans
THE Bush Christmas exhibition has become something of a tradition for Toowoomba district residents over the past 22 years.
Organiser Liz McClymont said she never ceased to be amazed by the wonderful work done by artists and producers in "the bush", which is what inspired the then-Cunnamulla resident and two friends to start the event.
Their mission was to bridge the gap between city and country, bringing interest and economic rewards to rural people, as well as increasing understanding.
Liz said the results had been incredible, never having believed the event would grow to the extent it has.
Starting out with just 17 exhibitors over four days, it now attracts about 120 and runs for 10 days, this year from November 28-December 7.
Goods include gourmet foods, hampers, books and cards, jewellery, art and sculpture, home and garden, children's and novelty gifts, general gifts and those especially targeting men.
As an example of its artisans' success, Liz pointed to the fortunes of Di Ridge, a sheep farmer from outside Burke, who has been exhibiting her Poppy Seed Salad Dressing for about 15 years.
Di produced her first batch of salad dressing in Coca Cola bottles back in about 2001.
As interest grew, she would send 2-3 boxes to the exhibit, but now sends a pallet-load, which is almost guaranteed to sell out, and she has shop distributors and mail-orders throughout the country.
What has kept the event fresh, Liz said, is that there are new exhibitors every year alongside the many favourites whom people return to see.
"Because it is by invitation and each year is a standalone event, people know they always have to have something special, a wow factor, to be invited back," Liz said.
One artisan cuts tree burls, polishes them and creates fruit bowls from the wild grain patterns and highlights, so each piece is completely unique.
The fact that Bush Christmas is an exhibition, rather than a market, Liz said, also meant organisers could pick and choose so that only the best quality, well presented and priced items were displayed; freighted in on consignment.
Organisation starts in about March for the November event, so this is no small task, but Liz said it was a real labour of love.
"I don't think there's anything like it in terms of the scale, the quality, and the skill involved by the artisans," she said.
"And it's very much a community thing - it's their exhibition."
Liz said at least 85% of the displays were from the bush, with the remainder generally having some form of bush connection.
Last year more than 6000 people attended Bush Christmas, and Liz said, "it's very rare to see someone leave who hasn't found something to buy".
In fact, people regularly bring their Christmas lists, fill them, and then return for more in coming days, while men often arrive saying, "my wife's been talking about such-and-such, so you'd better show me where it is".
Hampers, which can be individually prepared, are very popular, particularly for Seniors unsure of what to give family, or family looking for something for Seniors who may not need or have room to keep other gifts.
But Liz said seeing artisans receive exposure and gain confidence in their artistic and creative ability remained "one of the best things about Bush Christmas".
Bush Christmas is free at the Masonic Centre, 58 Neil St, Toowoomba, from November 28-December 7.
To find out more, go to bushchristmas.com.